Apples are in huge demand this time of year. Unlucky ones will find themselves smothered in toffee, with a stick shoved unceremoniously up the calyx – others may be forced to bob about in a bucket of water, awaiting small children to bite them free from their watery graves. Only the lucky ones get to be picked, pressed and fermented into delicious, mouth-puckering booze.
British Ciders can be broadly categorised into two distinct styles, which are determined by the apples used. West Country ciders are predominantly made from cider apples, which produce a tannin rich, low acid cider, whilst the eastern counties’ style is crisp and sharp tasting, due to the predominance of eating and cooking apples thrown in the mix.
Here’s our pick of the best British bottles, and there is more information on everything apple-related on our Two Thirsty Gardeners blog, a project combining our two passions: booze and gardening.
1. Handmade Cider, White Label, 4.8%: £32.40 for 12x500ml bottles, bristolcidershop.co.uk
With each apple lovingly chosen for pressing by his own juice-stained hands, champion cider maker Denis France won gold for his Normandy-style cider at this year’s prestigious Bath & West Cider competition. Commendations don’t get higher than that.
2. Severn Cider, Medium Sparkling, 6.3%: £14 for six bottles, severncider.com
Pressed and fermented beside the snaking River Severn, this small family business has been scrumping from local orchards for three generations. They produce a dazzling array of blended and single variety ciders, but this one is top of the pips.
3. Oliver’s, At The Hop, 5.5%: £4 for 500ml, oliversciderandperry.co.uk
Ocle Pychard, Herefordshire
Legendary cider-maker Tom Oliver has won more prizes for his ciders than there are wasps in his apple store. Not content with sitting on his bushels, Tom keeps on pushing the envelope, producing majestic, cutting-edge ciders. This booze is infused with Cascade hops for a bittersweet meeting of apple and flower.
4. Perry's, Ilminster, Farm Pressed Medium Cider, 6.5% £2.40 for 500ml, perryscider.co.uk
Tucked away in deepest Somerset sits Perry’s cider farm. Competing with the likes of Hecks, Honeys and Burrow Hill to produce Somerset’s finest tipple, this unfiltered, naturally fermented cider is the pick of the bunch.
5. Once Upon A Tree, Putley Gold, 7%: £4.60 for 750ml, onceuponatree.co.uk
This is marketed as a 'table cider', but could easily turn into an ‘under the table’ cider without self-restraint. It’s an expertly blended, golden wonder with the perfect balance of tannins and acidity and a super-smooth finish.
6. Worley’s Cider, Special Reserve, 5.4%: £30 for 6x750ml bottles, worleyscider.co.uk
Shepton Mallet, Somerset
‘Keeving’ is a complicated process that creates a naturally sparkling cider with subtle caramel flavours. Neil Worley is a master of the art and his Special Reserve lends an appley fizz to special occasions.
7. Fowey Valley Cider, Sparkling Vintage Cider, 7.5%: £12 for 750ml, ewwines.co.uk
A delicate, Champagne-style cider made by the Methode traditionelle – a two-year labour of love resulting in a crisp, effervescent drink that will knock most sparkling wines into a cocked vat. Pop the cork carefully so you don’t waste a drop.
8. Hallets, Real Cider, 6.0%: £30 for 12 x 500ml bottles, halletsrealcider.co.uk
Hallets is a standout among a growing number of Welsh cider makers. This variety has an initial natural sweetness giving way to a satisfyingly crisp, tannic finish.
9. Kent Cider Company, Russet, 8%: £17 for 5lts, kentcider.co.uk
A sublime example of a single variety eastern counties cider, made with finest Kent desert apples, squeezed on an old oak press. The Kent Cider Company has won plaudits with its extensive range of craft ciders – this robust russet beauty is up there with the best.
10. Dunkertons, Black Fox, 7%: £2.29 for 500ml, waitrose.com
Hand-crafted in Herefordshire, Dunkertons’ skilled cidermakers mix over 30 traditional apple varieties to create this tasty, tannic treat. Just go easy – at 7% abv, this fox packs a potent bite.
Thanks to the innovation and skill of the current crop of cider-makers, the future of this classic British booze is looking very rosy indeed. The standard of cider coming from the UK’s producers is truly outstanding. It’s difficult to choose a favourite, but you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer drop than Denis France’s Handmade Cider.
'Brew it Yourself' by Rich Hood and Nick Moyle contains more information on brewing your own booze
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